What were the intentions of the Founders? Was the American constitution designed to protect individual rights? To limit the powers of government? To curb the excesses of democracy? Or to create a robust democratic nation-state? These questions echo through today's most heated legal and political debates.
In this powerful new interpretation of America's origins, Max Edling argues that the Federalists were primarily concerned with building a government that could act vigorously in defense of American interests. The Constitution transferred the powers of war making and resource extraction from the states to the national government thereby creating a nation-state invested with all the important powers of Europe's eighteenth-century "fiscal-military states." A strong centralized government, however, challenged the American people's deeply ingrained distrust of unduly concentrated authority. To secure the Constitution's adoption the Federalists had to accommodate the formation of a powerful national government to the strong current of anti-statism in the American political tradition. They did so by designing a government that would be powerful in times of crisis, but which would make only limited demands on the citizenry and have a sharply restricted presence in society. The Constitution promised the American people the benefit of government without its costs.
Taking advantage of a newly published letterpress edition of the constitutional debates, A Revolution in Favor of Government recovers a neglected strand of the Federalist argument, making a persuasive case for rethinking the formation of the federal American state.